Object of the Week

What Capitol Riot Merch Reveals About Our Culture

They tried to overthrow our government, and all they got was a stupid T-shirt

Rob Walker
Marker
Published in
4 min readJan 21, 2021

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Trump supporters flying flags near the U.S. Capitol following the Stop the Steal rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto/Getty

Object of the Week is a new column exploring the objects a culture obsesses over and what that reveals about us.

Nearly two weeks after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building that left five dead, including a law enforcement officer who was beaten to death by the mob, the New York Times wondered why it was still possible to buy — on Amazon, no less — T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as “Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran.” As if an insurrection was just another souvenir-worthy event.

It’s a troubling question. And as much as sedition merch sounds like dark satire, it’s worth taking seriously. The objects a culture produces and consumes can tell stories and reveal truths; the stuff we buy both reflects and projects what has meaning to us. Taking objects and consumer culture seriously is a theme I’ve pursued for years, as a columnist, author, teacher, and occasional talking head. It’s what’s behind my annual Year in Objects roundups for Marker.

And it’s in that spirit that we’re launching a new column, Object of the Week, that aims to plumb the zeitgeist by exploring who is consuming what and why. And given this fraught, tentative, surreal moment, it seems somehow perversely appropriate to start by looking at designed objects that seek to commemorate — and profit from — the attempted overthrow of the government.

The merch all features slapdash or perfunctory design that suggests minimal effort at maximum speed, stuff cranked out on the fly to meet potential demand.

In addition to those Amazon T-shirts, the Times dug up Capitol Hill riot commemoration merch on Etsy, Zazzle, and independent sites using Shopify as their back-end e-commerce tool. While the specific examples were promptly scrubbed, there’s a whack-a-mole quality to the phenomenon. Much like social media platforms, e-commerce platforms tend to be built to make selling and buying as easy as possible, a friction-free process that encourages maximum…

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